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Full text of "The Egyptian Problem"

164
THE EGYPTIAN PROBLEM
CHAP.
especially of a generation that is now passing away, who still stand in the old ways and are much less affected by political agitation, except possibly that which proceeds from El Azhar, than by the enormous rise in the cost of living. The small wage-earners are those that have been most badly hit, and they are gradually learning to protect their interests by forming their own trade unions and going on strike for a living wage. But labour questions as we understand them at home are never likely to bulk very large in Egypt, for, in a country which is not and can probably never be a great manufacturing country, there are no solid industrial masses capable of organising big labour movements. The largest groups are those that have grown with the growing internal and external trade of Egypt, such as railwaymen, transport workers, and Alexandria dock labourers. It is chiefly these that have resorted during the last twelve months to the novel weapon of strikes, hitherto scarcely known in Egypt, and it is doubtful whether they would have done so but for the contagious influence of political turmoil. Labour conditions generally are still very primitive and chaotic, and as there are large numbers of foreigners, particularly Greeks and Italians, amongst the labouring class, or at least amongst the skilled workmen, effective labour legislation is no easy matter so long as the Capitulations impede the enforcement of the same laws on foreigners and natives.
Essentially a product of modern Egypt and of increased contact with Europe, is the still numerically small middle class confined almost entirely to the towns, but with here and there a few recruits amongst the more prosperous and ambitious fellaheen. It is essentially the politically-minded class—lawyers, and doctors, and journalists, and Government servants who have received either in Egypt or abroad a more or less thorough Western education, and have imbibed a certain amount of Western ideas. Its outlook is still largely affected by its Mahomedan environment, from which it can hardly emancipate itselfs,